Egyptian weaver working at a loom near Cairo, 1998.
Oriental Rugs Today: Chapter 1 Part 6
One last factor has motivated the renaissance, and that is technology. It is perhaps surprising that a low-tech industry like Oriental rugs could benefit from twentieth-century technology, but such is the case. First of all, the information available to Western rugmakers is unimaginably richer than that available to weavers in, say, northern Afghanistan—or, for that matter, to Westerners thirty years ago. Improvements in the technology of making color separations, by which color plates are prepared for publication, have lowered their prices so greatly that today it is not uncommon to find rug books with 100 color plates or more. Today Western rugmakers have at their disposal thousands of photographs of the best Oriental rugs made during the past four centuries. They have lavish Oriental rug magazines to draw on, auction catalogues with scores of color plates, and catalogues from rug exhibitions. Many a color plate from Sotheby’s auction catalogues has reappeared in a new rug six months later. Technology has helped rugmakers today become extraordinarily sophisticated.
But improvements in travel may be even more important than improvements in information technology. Some Western rugmakers make trips to Pakistan, for instance, every month to supervise their production. Lately I made a buying trip to Pakistan, round trip, in four days. Inexpensive, fast travel has permitted scenarios like the following to take place: An American rugmaker flies to Turkey and arranges to have dyed wool shipped to China; he flies on to China and sees that weavers are off to a proper start making rugs with the Turkish wool before he jogs on to Germany to check up on his European operations; back home in New York, he ships already completed rugs to West Coast retailers, and the rugs arrive there five days later.
Modern communications technology is also important. One American importer who makes rugs in Nepal, aided by fax transmissions and computers, can and does produce and deliver large custom carpets to order in a total of three months or less. Incredible! The rug renaissance exists in a brave new world of technology. Recently I examined a shipment of rugs from Pakistan that had landed in San Francisco. I asked the Afghan importer whether he could get more of a certain type of rug. He said, ‘Just a minute,’ and took a cellular phone off his hip. A few moments later he said yes, he could get more. He had just phoned his brother in Mazar-e-Sharif. I was astonished. The last time I was in Afghanistan, before the Russian invasion, it was not possible to phone from one end of Kabul to the other.